Kevin Mandolese has a couple of reasons for looking forward to wearing his new goalie pads.
For one thing, the Cape Breton Eagles goaltender is currently out of the club’s lineup with a lower-body injury he suffered last month in a game against the Moncton Wildcats at Centre 200.
But along with getting back on the ice with his teammates, the 19-year-old is also looking forward to debuting his new gear, which will include a special logo.
Mandolese’s new pads will include the name “Ella” in honour of his billet sister, one-year-old Ella MacPherson, who recently received a bone-marrow transplant.
With the help of Bauer Hockey, Mandolese and the company were able to create the logo, which reads "Ella" in white letters with a little pink bow on top of the "E" along with banner with the words “All for Ella."
The logo is placed on the side of the pads.
“I just wanted to do something to have her on my pads,” said Mandolese. “It was a no-brainer for me and I’m just happy the family has allowed me to do this.”
Ella, the daughter of Ryan and Jennifer MacPherson of Sydney, was born on Nov. 2, 2018.
Ella’s story began on April 2 when she fell off a bed and broke her femur.
During treatment for the injury, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic bone condition called osteopetrosis and was sent to the IWK Health Centre in Halifax for a steady round of tests.
One of the complications of osteopetrosis is bone-marrow failure and, as a result, Ella received a transplant at the SickKids hospital in Toronto.
The MacPherson family spent months in the Ontario capital during the procedure and returned home to Cape Breton last month with Ella.
Mandolese first approached the MacPherson family in August with the idea of having Ella’s name on his pads, something the family quickly agreed on.
“We were in an outpatient clinic in Toronto when Kevin sent us a text, basically telling us his plan and showing us the artwork,” said Ryan MacPherson.
“It’s a proud moment as a human to see that people will do something like this for you — what he was able to do was very nice and means a lot because we’re going through a lot.”
The MacPherson family has been part of the Eagles billet family program for the past six years, having welcomed Mandolese, Kyle Havlena, Olivier LeBlanc and Timothé Simard to Cape Breton and the Eagles during that time.
Mandolese has been with the MacPherson family for his entire four-year major junior career and has become close with the family’s children. He was in Cape Breton when Ella was born.
“We all have a lot of fun and we enjoy our time together,” said Mandolese of the family. “Ella brings a lot of laughter and entertainment to us all.”
Ryan MacPherson considers the family lucky to have Mandolese and Havlena in their lives today.
“Both Kevin and Kyle are very good with our family, we’d be lost without the guys, especially going through this, they both continue to support us,” said Ryan.
“If you’re going to a battle, you want your friends and family with you and these guys are family, so we want them with us every step of the way and we know they will be.”
The Blainville, Que., native took over as the Eagles’ No. 1 goaltender last season after the club traded fellow netminder Kyle Jessiman to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. Prior to the trade, the two shared time in goal.
Mandolese’s transition to the No. 1 job took some time. He had finished the first half of the season with 15 wins and 11 losses, but as the calendar changed, so did his play between the pipes.
The Ottawa Senators' sixth-round draft pick took his game to the next level, posting 14 wins and six losses in the final three months of the regular season, including a 7-1 record in January.
Ella began attending Eagles games during the second half of the year, which Mandolese believes is one of the reasons for his strong play.
“I always had good games when she was in the rink,” said Mandolese. “I told Ryan I didn’t know what was going to happen come the playoffs, but I wanted to have my good luck charm (Ella) at Centre 200.
“It was an inside joke at the time that caught on, but Ella always used to bring me good luck and I’d always seem to play well when she was there.”
This isn’t the first time Mandolese has shown his generosity in the Cape Breton community.
Last March, Mandolese wore special green-coloured gear as part of the team’s annual Irish jersey raffle game in support of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation.
In addition to the team’s jersey raffle, Mandolese gave away the custom gear he wore during the contest against the Charlottetown Islanders as part of the fundraising event.
Mandolese credits his parents for helping him become the person he is today with the Eagles organization.
“My parents were always really caring to other people and always told me to look out for and be nice to other people and I’ve always lived by that,” said Mandolese, a first-round pick by Cape Breton in 2016.
“The Cape Breton community welcomed me when I was 15 years old and giving back to the community is something I wanted to do and for me it’s just a no-brainer to help because I love it here.”
On the ice, Mandolese has appeared in 11 games with the Eagles this season and has a 7-2-0-0 record, along with a 2.84 goals-against-average and a .905 save percentage.
Mandolese received two new sets of pads last week. Ella’s name will be on both sets. No date has been set as to when he will wear the new pads in-game action.
“Outside of hockey, there’s worse things that can happen to you,” said Mandolese. “To have Ella’s name on my pads will also help me to battle hard because she was battling for her life at one point.
“The logo will remind me how lucky I am because there’s a lot of people close to my surroundings who aren’t as lucky, so I’m looking forward to wearing these pads.”
Ella will continue to receive treatment at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney but is also required to visit the IWK Health Centre every two weeks.
Ryan said his daughter is getting better every day.
“It’s going to be a long road because we have to keep track of her for a long time,” he said. “She’s on the move now, so we have to keep an eye on her.”
Ryan doesn’t know when he’ll be able to take Ella back to the rink, as the decision will be made through doctor’s orders.
“If a doctor tells us towards the end of the year that we’re able to get her there we will — a long shot would be the end of the year or playoffs, but it has to be approved by the doctor and we’re not even close to that stage.”
As for Mandolese, he says he hopes to be able to do even more for the community, noting he’d like to start making hospital visits on top of the team’s local school visits.
Mandolese also plans to once again wear special pads as part of the Eagles'’ St. Patrick’s Day game on March 14, noting he plans to try something different this time, but didn’t confirm details of those plans.